Part I: Long Days
As she stared at the late sunset, Applejack slowly removed her hat, wiped off her face, and sighed. Another long hot day, she thought as she found a place under the comfort of a nearby apple tree in her family's orchard. And they just seem to keep on getting longer and hotter, she mused while sitting down. Summer had arrived, which meant Celestia provided more daylight for Applejack and her family to work with during Applebuck Season. Now, night was so late that Granny Smith and Apple Bloom were already long in bed before the sun set.
Applejack looked off into the distance as she sat snugly between two buckets of red apples with her hat placed on her stomach. Her back lay propped against a fruitless tree. She could see Big Macintosh in the distance among the rows of ripened apple trees and an auburn sun which was just now beginning to relent in the late evening.
Maybe, she hated to admit to herself as she rubbed her aching knees, maybe planting so many new rows last year was a little too ambitious. She had been working hard all week trying to gather all of the family's apples before insects or some natural disaster took them first. Sitting there, she realized that her knees hadn't hurt so badly since she was just a filly learning how to properly buck a tree.
After a few minutes of peace she began to relax and allowed her mind to wander to matters other than work. She thought of family reunions, competitions, her friends, and eventually she allowed herself to think of nothing at all but sleep. And just as Applejack's eyelids began to sink shut she was startled by a sudden rustling and a deep voice.
"Come on AJ, wake up. Let's get back home," Big Mac said as he approached his sister towing a cart stuffed full with apples. Applejack was slightly startled, though her brother didn't seem to notice. "We'll just have to play catch up tomorrow, I reckon," his worried voice said as he stared off at nothing in particular in the horizon and waited for Applejack to rise.
The sun finally thought to let up, she noticed with some relief.
She rolled over onto her legs and grabbed her hat. "I wasn't sleeping," Applejack feebly mumbled as she found her balance. "I was just relaxin', is all." After shaking off dirt and fatigue, she placed her hat on her head and followed her brother towards the two-story silhouette that jutted out against the dim moonlight in the distance - their family home.
"You shouldn't overwork yourself, AJ," Big Mac spoke in his typical monotone drawl. "Applebuck season only just begun last week. We already cleared out a decent bit of the red delicious. We're just a little behind, is all." Then he spoke with a slight grin, knowing exactly what Applejack's response would be. "You can take a break now and then."
"What the hay are you tryin' to say? Are you sayin' that I don't have what it takes for this year's harvest?" Applejack responded indignantly though tiredly as she slowly stepped up next to her brother with a mean stare.
"Eeee-nope," Big Mac said reassuringly. He paused for a moment and allowed her to catch up. "Just saying that you don't have to overdo it. You've got a whole family to help you," the stallion continued to speak in his unhurried manner.
" I don't need... I don't need no breaks. I can out-buck any pony, and I'm --" She stopped speaking as a deep yawn took hold of her. "I'm sure as shoot... not going to sleep on the job when the Apple family... is behind... on Apple... buck... Season..."
Big Mac turned around as her voice trailed off and saw Applejack's head pointed toward the ground. She slept peacefully still on her hooves and snored lightly. Big Mac chuckled quietly and lifted up Applejack onto his shoulders. He carried her the rest of the way home in his gentlest trot.
But today bothered Big Mac more than he would like to own up. This summer was only starting and these days were some of the hottest and longest he had ever endured. What the bucking didn't take out of Applejack the blistering sun did. And even Big Mac felt like he might reach his limits given a few more days like this one.
He reached home and entered the door slowly, careful to avoid startling the house where every floorboard creak was heard among the outside voices of insects and nocturnal birds. He climbed the stairs and lowered Applejack carefully into her bed. After tucking her in, he climbed into his own bed and easily fell asleep.
But morning came all too soon.
I think you know what is best, don't you?
There needs to be balance.
Balance for what purpose? Why allow evil to exist in your kingdom at all?
No, not evil. All creatures require both to survive.
Yet one gives life, and the other a shroud for misdeeds. One provides warmth and the other coldness and fear. Why permit it?
This is the natural order. I can't disrupt it on a whim.
You have control. Why compromise?
Rainbow Dash was beginning to feel like today was going to be a long day. She knew it early at dawn as she began her weather duty. There was a call for rain, yet not a single cloud could be seen from any direction in the clear orange-ribboned sky. And before she even really began the day's hard work, she was interrupted by an approaching courier pegasus.
"I brought you a letter!" the mail mare quipped eagerly as she approached Rainbow and began to ruffle through her mailbag. She rummaged aimlessly through the disorganized bag, checking all of its pockets. She accidentally dropped a few of the scattered letters which flittered like leaves to the Earth below. After a tortuous minute, Rainbow Dash crossed her hooves with impatience and stared at the struggling mail pony with plain frustration. Finally, Derpy picked up one envelope, looked at it for a few seconds and said, "Here! Here it is!"
She handed Rainbow Dash the letter. A bold red stamp reading "URGENT" was pressed neatly in the center of the envelope. In a very formal script at the top of the letter, Rainbow Dash saw it was an "Official Correspondence from the Office of Mayor Mare."
While she examined the letter, she noticed an odd panting sound. Lowering the envelope from her face, she saw the mail pony looking at her with crossed eyes and an eager face that sought approval.
"Uh, thanks," Rainbow Dash said distractedly as her eyes went back to the envelope.
Derpy's eyes lit up with delight. As she departed, she happily exclaimed, "You're very welcome! Have a super day, Rainbow Dash!"
She opened the letter and unfolded the crisp letter headed stationary inside. After quickly skimming it, she dashed towards town hall.
A huge gathering of pegasi had arrived in front of the town hall - many of whom she knew and some whom must have been called from other cities. I guess they have quicker mail ponies wherever they're from, Rainbow Dash thought with boredom. She scanned the crowd as she approached. And when her eyes stopped on the group standing on the platform, what she saw almost stopped her heart.
The Wonderbolts! Standing along with Mayor Mare at the podium were her lifelong heroes, looking courageous and waiting for the mayor to begin her inevitable speech. Rainbow Dash quickly soared into the front row next to a brown pegasus she recognized only faintly - not that she was paying much attention to him.
"Omigosh, even the Wonderbolts are here!" Rainbow Dash thought out loud as her wings darted up in excitement and her hooves pressed onto her cheeks in disbelief.
"Oh, I know," the pony next to her spoke, "They were supposed to be doing a show in Manehatten today, where I work. Anyways, they're here to help with the relief effort, I hear."
But Rainbow Dash barely realized that someone was talking to her amidst the growing chatter that rose as more pegasi glided into their crowd. The minutes passed in anticipation while the growing crowd buzzed with the sounds of voices and flapping wings. Finally, even Derpy swooped into the group with an empty mail bag to join the crowd.
When Mayor Mare recognized that all the pegasi had arrived, she approached forward. In the short time that it took to arrive at the podium, the restless crowd instantly hushed. It was such a silence that all that could be heard was the sound of breathing and the mayor clearing her throat. She began in her ceremonial way of speaking:
"Greetings, pegasi of Equestria. Thank you all for arriving in such short notice. Before I begin, I would like to thank all of you sincerely for your dedication and service - especially those among us from neighboring cities and towns. As mayor of our humble town, I commend you all for your dedication to fellow pony folk. Ponyville will never forget your aide in our time of need.
"Without further ado, I must address the problem we face. As I am sure everypony is aware, we have gathered here to help overcome what may come to be one of the worst droughts ever suffered in Equestria. Although this recent drought has surely affected all of you in some way, no town has experienced this problem quite as severely as Ponyville. Our economy is largely agricultural; the drought has already affected our way of life signifcantly. Entire fields of carrots and apples, among other crops, have already suffered terrible losses; crops have withered and died before even ripening. Our farmers are working themselves sick trying to save what they can. It is up to us to relieve these hard workers and save our harvest before a terrible famine strikes Equestria.
"Now, I am sure you are all curious about the group I have with me today - a group which everypony should be familiar with. To inspire us and lead our efforts, it is my pleasure to introduce to you: The Wonderbolts!"
With this, Mayor Mare stepped aside from the podium and the Wonderbolts moved forward. All of the pegasi erupted in cheer, filled with clomping, whistling, and shouts of enthusiasm. Rainbow Dash hadn't been paying attention to a single word spoken until this point, but now she became completely entranced as one of the Wonderbolts, Spitfire, began to speak.
"We would like to say 'thank you' for the warm welcome, Ponyville. While we were rehearsing for our next show, we heard about the growing drought problem and how it affected you all. We never realized how serious it was until yesterday, when we heard from Ms. Mayor. We had no problems with immediately cancelling our show to be here. We are honored to help this cause."
Another even louder round of cheers rose out of the pegasi as Spitfire finished. Afterwards, each of the Wonderbolts separated and began organizing their own groups of pegasi to lead. Many of the pegasi began to stir and mingle from the excitement, making it nearly impossible for Rainbow Dash to find her way through the crowd to locate one of the Wonderbolts. But ultimately, Spitfire found Rainbow Dash herself amidst the crowd and chatter.
"Hey, there you are, Rainbow Dash! We meet again. Great to see you. How would you like to join my squad?"
At first, she couldn't think of what to say due to her surprise. "Oh, uh, of course! I'd love to!" she stammered and blushed.
Keep cool, Dash. You're just talking to one of the Wonderbolts; it's no big deal.
Rainbow rubbed a hoof nervously behind her mane. "I mean... uh, sure thing!" Rainbow Dash said evenly, trying to compose herself. Spitfire looked at her quizzically. After an awkward pause, Rainbow decided against embarrassing herself anymore. She saluted and said with some forced bravado, "I'm ready!"
Spitfire chuckled and said comfortingly, "That's good to hear. I'm sure you'll do well." She then turned around and walked towards a smaller group of pegasi. "Come on, let's join up with the rest of our group."
Rainbow Dash, blushing with embarrassment but thrilled to be working directly with one of the Wonderbolts, followed her idol to join the rest of her squad.
This is finally my chance! A real chance to prove myself to the Wonderbolts! I'll swoop in, punch this stupid drought in the face, and WHAM! I'll be sure to get a shot at joining them!
She followed Spitfire, thinking all about the glory to come after her important new mission. She thought about cheering crowds, about how she would look in her new Wonderbolt outfit, about...
"Oh, hi again, Rainbow Dash!" A familiar voice shouted and popped the dream cloud floating above Rainbow Dash's head.
No, Rainbow Dash thought. It can't be.
"We're gonna make the best team ever!" Derpy shouted blissfully among their five other hoof picked squad mates.
Spitfire smiled at her enthusiasm and said, "That's right! Now, let's all get organized. We've got a long day ahead of us!"
That's one way to describe it, Rainbow Dash thought in disbelief.
The creatures will learn to adapt. They should also learn to not compromise in the face of evil.
You're wrong. There is nothing evil in it.
Think of how the night corrupted your sister. It transformed her entirely. She became a monster and a tyrant.
I will not be controlled. I will not be manipulated. You are an evil spirit.
I am only a voice of reason. There is nobody to stop what you decree but yourself.
-To be continued-
Written by Nug TWH, published on FiMFiction.net on January 27th, 2012. Please give credit or link if you copy.